Epidemiology, drug resistance, and pathophysiology of Plasmodium vivax malaria

J Vector Borne Dis. 2018 Jan-Mar;55(1):1-8. doi: 10.4103/0972-9062.234620.


Malaria, caused by the protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium, is a major health problem in many countries of the world. Five parasite species namely, Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae, P. ovale, and P. knowlesi, cause malaria in humans. Of these, P. falciparum and P. vivax are the most prevalent and account for the majority of the global malaria cases. In most areas of Africa, P. vivax infection is essentially absent because of the inherited lack of Duffy antigen receptor for chemokines on the surface of red blood cells that is involved in the parasite invasion of erythrocytes. Therefore, in Africa, most malaria infections are by P. falciparum and the highest burden of P. vivax infection is in Southeast Asia and South America. Plasmodium falciparum is the most virulent and as such, it is responsible for the majority of malarial mortality, particularly in Africa. Although, P. vivax infection has long been considered to be benign, recent studies have reported life-threatening consequences, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, cerebral malaria, multi-organ failure, dyserythropoiesis and anaemia. Despite exhibiting low parasite biomass in infected people due to parasite's specificity to infect only reticulocytes, P. vivax infection triggers higher inflammatory responses and exacerbated clinical symptoms than P. falciparum, such as fever and chills. Another characteristic feature of P. vivax infection, compared to P. falciparum infection, is persistence of the parasite as dormant liver-stage hypnozoites, causing recurrent episodes of malaria. This review article summarizes the published information on P. vivax epidemiology, drug resistance and pathophysiology.

Keywords: Clinical manifestations; drug resistance; epidemiology; pathogenesis; severe malaria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / adverse effects
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Asia, Southeastern / epidemiology
  • Drug Resistance*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / parasitology
  • Liver / parasitology
  • Malaria, Vivax / complications
  • Malaria, Vivax / drug therapy
  • Malaria, Vivax / epidemiology*
  • Malaria, Vivax / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Plasmodium vivax / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium vivax / immunology
  • Plasmodium vivax / pathogenicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / physiopathology
  • Recurrence
  • South America / epidemiology


  • Antimalarials